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Renée Houston

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Renée Houston
Katherina Rita Murphy Gribbin

(1902-07-24)24 July 1902
Died9 February 1980(1980-02-09) (aged 77)
Occupation(s)Actress, comedian
Years active1910s–1980

Renée Houston (born Katherina Rita Murphy Gribbin;[1] 24 July 1902 – 9 February 1980) was a Scottish comedy actress and revue artist who appeared in television and film roles.[2]

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Born in Johnstone, Renfrewshire, into a theatrical family who performed as James Houston and Company,[3] she toured music halls and revues with her sister Billie Houston (born Sarah McMahon Gribbin; 1906–1972) as the "Houston Sisters".[4] They became a leading variety act in the 1920s, sometimes performing as two children in over-sized furniture; Billie played the part of a boy.[3]

In 1926, the sisters made a short musical film, the script of which Renée had written. It was produced by Lee De Forest, whose process, Phonofilm, enabled a soundtrack to be played alongside the film (a year before The Jazz Singer).[5][6][7] The sisters ended their working partnership in 1936, when Billie reportedly became ill,[3] although it is suggested that the split may have been due to the sisters' frequent disagreements.[1]

Renee Houston continued as a solo comedienne and actress, appearing in the Noel Gay revue Love Laughs!. She eventually revived her double act, this time with her third husband, the actor Donald Stewart, until his death in 1966.[3]

In her later years, she specialised in "battleaxe" roles, notably as shop steward Vic Spanner's (Kenneth Cope) formidable mother in Carry On at Your Convenience (1971).[8] She also worked for director Roman Polanski in Repulsion (1965) and Cul-de-sac (1966).[9][10] She published her autobiography in 1974 which was entitled Don't Fence Me In.[11]

Houston was also in early episodes of radio's The Clitheroe Kid, playing his Scottish mother in half a dozen 1958 broadcasts (but the role was quickly recast to use an English actress instead), and was a regular guest on radio panel show Petticoat Line chaired by Anona Winn.[12][13] According to entertainment historian Richard Anthony Baker: "So many listeners found her forthright language unacceptable that she was eventually limited to two swear words per show."[1]

She died in London at the age of 77 on 9 February 1980. Houston was married three times. The second was to the actor Pat Aherne, the brother of Brian Aherne.[14] Her third husband was the actor Donald Stewart.[15]



Year Title Role Notes
1932 Come Into My Parlour Jenny MacDonald
1933 Their Night Out Maggie Oliphant
1933 Radio Parade Herself
1934 Lost in the Legion Mary McFee
1934 Mr. Cinders Mrs. Phipps
1935 No Monkey Business Jessie
1936 Happy Days Revue Kitty Seymour
1937 Fine Feathers Teenie McPherson
1939 A Girl Must Live Gloria Lind
1941 Old Bill and Son Stella Malloy
1943 The Peterville Diamond Lady Margaret
1944 Two Thousand Women Maud Wright
1951 Lady Godiva Rides Again Beattie AKA, Bikini Baby
1954 The Belles of St. Trinian's Miss Brimmer
1955 Track the Man Down Pat Sherwood
1956 A Town Like Alice Ebbey
1956 The Big Money Bobbie
1957 Time Without Pity Mrs. Harker
1958 The Horse's Mouth Sara Monday
1958 Them Nice Americans Mrs. Adams
1960 The Flesh and the Fiends Helen Burke
1960 And the Same to You Mildred Pomphret
1961 Three on a Spree Mrs. Gray
1961 Watch it, Sailor! Mrs. Mottram
1961 No My Darling Daughter Miss Yardley
1962 The Phantom of the Opera Mrs. Tucker
1962 Fog for the Killer Ma Johnson
1963 Nurse on Wheels Mrs. Beacon
1963 The Rescue Squad Mrs. Manse
1963 Tomorrow at Ten Masie Maddox
1963 Carry On Cabby Molly
1964 Carry On Spying Madame
1965 Repulsion Miss Balch
1966 Cul-de-sac Christopher's Mother
1966 Secrets of a Windmill Girl Molly
1966 The Spy with a Cold Nose Lady Blanchflower
1971 Carry On at Your Convenience Agatha Spanner
1975 Legend of the Werewolf Chou-Chou


Year Title Role Notes
1956–57 ITV Television Playhouse Mrs. MacDonald, Marthy Episodes: "The Blood Is Strong", "Anna Christie"
1957 The Errol Flynn Theatre Mrs. Bridie Episode: "Take the High Road"
1957 Armchair Theatre Ethel Watts Episode: "Rappaport Always Pays"
1957 Anna Christie Marthy TV film
1957–58 Sunday Night Theatre Vi Vining, Bessie Episodes: "The Day's Mischief", "A Nest of Robins"
1960 Maigret Madame Ja Ja Episode: "Liberty Bar"
1960–61 No Hiding Place Grannie Wheedon, Mrs. Lacey Episodes: "Footsteps on the Ceiling", "Fever"
1961 Doctor Knock Madame Remy Episode: "Act 3"
1962 Dinner with the Family Madame de Montrachet TV film
1962 A Matter of Conscience Korableva TV film
1962 Man of the World Mrs. Van Kempson Episode: "The Runaways"
1963 Z-Cars Big Rosie Episode: "Scare"
1963 Taxi! Gig Lambert Episode: "Barricades in Bailey Street"
1963–64 The Saint Ida Warshed, Mrs. McAlister Episodes: "The Gentle Ladies", "The Wonderful War"
1964, 1967 Dr. Finlay's Casebook Mrs. Bright, Mrs. Johnston Episodes: "My Late Dear Husband", "Over My Dead Body"
1966 Dixon of Dock Green Mrs. Loman Episode: "Death of a Donkeyman"
1966 ITV Play of the Week Mother Brinicombe Episode: "The First Thunder"
1966 Knock on Any Door Marion Scoullar Episode: "The Dear Ones"
1967 Trapped Ivy Episode: "Goodnight Mrs Dill"
1967 River Rivals Mrs. Fredericks TV series
1969 W. Somerset Maugham "Frank" Hickson Episode: "The Three Fat Women of Antibes"
1969 Doctor in the House Mrs. Muir Episodes: "Peace and Quiet", "If In Doubt - Cut It Out!"
1969 ITV Sunday Night Theatre Olive Episode: "The Comic"
1973 Special Branch Scotswoman Episode: "You Won't Remember Me"


  1. ^ a b c Richard Anthony Baker, Old Time Variety: an illustrated history, Pen & Sword, 2011, ISBN 978-1-78340-066-9, pp.28-30
  2. ^ "Renée Houston". Archived from the original on 26 April 2008. Retrieved 26 October 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d Roy Hudd and Philip Hindin, Roy Hudd's Cavalcade of Variety Acts, Robson Books, 1998, ISBN 1-86105-206-5, pp.84-85
  4. ^ clairemckendrick (18 May 2015). "The Houston Sisters: Back in the Spotlight".
  5. ^ Pathé, British. "A Match Or Two - Two Little Tricks By The Houston Sisters".
  6. ^ "Film Career". 23 February 2017.
  7. ^ Mundy, John (15 July 2007). The British Musical Film. Manchester University Press. ISBN 9780719063213 – via Google Books.
  8. ^ "Carry On at Your Convenience (1971) - Gerald Thomas - Cast and Crew". AllMovie.
  9. ^ "Repulsion (1965)". BFI. Archived from the original on 19 April 2016.
  10. ^ "Cul-de-sac (1966)". BFI. Archived from the original on 11 August 2016.
  11. ^ McFarlane, Brian (16 May 2016). The Encyclopedia of British Film: Fourth edition. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9781526111975 – via Google Books.
  12. ^ "Jimmy Clitheroe as 'THE CLITHEROE KID'". 2 May 1958. p. 31 – via BBC Genome.
  13. ^ "Petticoat Line". 28 September 1967. p. 68 – via BBC Genome.
  14. ^ McFarlane, Brian (16 May 2016). The Encyclopedia of British Film: Fourth edition. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9781526111975 – via Google Books.
  15. ^ "Houston, Renée [real name Caterina Rita Murphy Gribbin] (1902–1980), actress". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/49223. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)


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This page was last edited on 15 October 2023, at 18:34
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